Monday, July 30, 2012

Milepost 243 to 375 - Roanoke to Elmore


Merrimac - Milepost 278.3

Sponsored by the Montgomery County Dept. of Parks & Recreation

Harry Bundy Picture
Merrimac operator’s shanty was located on the north side of Virginian right of way at milepost 278.3 and just over a hundred yards west of the west portal of Alleghany Tunnel, 5176 feet long. Between these two features, a bridge carried N&W’s Huckleberry Branch over the Virginian, clinking Blacksburg and Christiansburg, Va. A connecting track between the two railroads was near the operator’s shanty.

To reach Merrimac, the traveler may use a paved trail created and maintained by Montgomery County. “The Huckleberry Trail” starts behind the left (south) end of New River Valley Shopping Mall.  Enter the Mall by turning off business 460 onto Radford Road and going to the far left (south) end where a roadway loops behind the mall. Signs for the trail and a parking area are very visible in the back of the mall.  The distance to Merrimac is about ¾ of a mile, 5 minutes on a bike or 15 minutes by walking. The trail crosses the very active NS track beside the old N&W branchline bridge piers. Look to the west for the site of the operator’s shanty and look to the east for the west portal of Alleghany Tunnel.  About one mile beyond Merrimac is the county’s Coal Mining Heritage Park where anthracite coal was once mined. 

The tunnel was 5176 feet long with the crest of grades being at the west portal, 1960 feet above sea level.  The grade for westbound trains approaching the tunnel was 1.5% while .6% was the grade for eastbound trains approaching the tunnel. The tunnel was improved with concrete lining and portals in 1924.


 Narrows Power Plant - Milepost 317.4

Sponsored by the Town of Narrows



As the coal traffic on the Virginian began to mushroom by 1920, it became clear a better solution had to be found to get the loaded coal trains out of West Virginia. The grade at Clark’s Gap, west of Princeton, was the steepest and a bottleneck to operations. And it was expensive to operate in its then-current condition. Huge steam locomotives were being used and the trains were slow. At the railroad’s Board of Directors meeting in the spring of 1923, it was decided to commence work to electrify a portion of the railroad. Engineering and design work commenced Nov. 29, 1923 after Virginian’s hiring of the engineering firm of  Gibbs & Hill of New York City, generally identified as pioneers in railroad electrification. One hundred and thirty four miles of the mainline would be electrified. The firm immediately erected a field office at Narrows before construction of the power plant started. To construct the overhead and functioning electric lines for the 133.6 miles of electrified railroad, the railroad directors approved $5,964,973 for catenary in Virginia and $1,977.292 for catenary in West Virginia.
Geo K. Shands Picture, William Clemons Collection

Narrows, Virginia was chosen as the site for the power plant because of a town already there and it being half way between the extreme ends of the electrified territory; Mullens and Roanoke.  The plant’s primary building was 220 feet by 156 feet and roughly 140 feet high. Two brick stacks stood 376 feet tall. There were three turbo generators with a fourth available as needed, each capable of producing 15,000 k.w of electricity.  By means of transformers, the power could be raised to 88,000 volts when it left the plant. The 377 transmission towers, arranged along in more or less straight lines but not necessarily adjacent to the railroad, carried two 88,000 volt circuits. Seven step-down transformer stations were located at Elmore, Clark’s Gap, Princeton, Narrows, Eggleston, Merrimac and Wabun. The 88,000 volts current  from the transmission lines was dropped down to either 11,000 volts or 22,000 volts to be supplied as needed to the trolley lines directly above the tracks for the electric locomotives. 
As an illustration of the output of the Narrows Power Plant operation, the 45,000 kilowatts to 60,000 kw produced at the plant in 1925, before any upgrades or modifications, would be sufficient to power the entire City of Princeton, West Virginia in 2010. (sources - 2010 US census and Appalachian Power Company)

For its initial electric locomotives, the railroad turned to Alco and Westinghouse; Westinghouse specialized in AC transmission whereas at the time, General Electric preferred DC transmission. While rather simple looking in outward appearance, these three section locomotives could provide tremendous amounts of power, 7,125 hp and 231,000 pounds of tractive effort. The locomotive’s tremendous tractive effort was in part due to its large size, weighing in at over 1.2 million pounds with a length of 152 feet and 3 inches. Initially, Virginian received and operated twelve of these three section locomotives, spending $4,646,292. Within a few years, the last one was divided into three single section locomotives for switching and yard work. During the years of their lifespans, a couple others were separated and then reunited again. Virginian added more electric locomotives of different designs in 1948 and 1956-57.
After Virginian’s merger with N&W December 1, 1959, N&W made a token effort to utilize the Virginian’s electric locomotive fleet. The electrics didn’t fit in; they could only be used on a section of the former Virginian line and N&W had cast its lot into the diesel electric locomotive camp earlier. In June 1962, the last train to operate over the old Virginian with electric locomotives made its last run into Roanoke. The engines were a trio of five years old General Electric, 3300 horsepower, class EL-C class locomotives. With no purpose to serve, the Narrows Power Plant was demolished in 1970.


Glyn Lyn Bridge - Milepost 323.4

Sponsored by the Town of Glen Lyn

Greg Elam Collection
Vintage newspaper stories date the completion of the last piece of Virginian railroad as being at the west end of New River Bridge at Glen Lyn, Va. on January 23, 1909. The author of one newspaper story reported that the weather was “so cold an Eskimo would freeze.” The bridge was 2155 feet long and about 130 feet above the New River, depending on the water level.
Steve Summers Picture
Local tradition has it that in 1908, as concrete was being poured into the forms for the bridge piers, a worker fell to his death in the wet concrete of the pier second from the west end.  His body was never recovered.

In 1972, after the merger with Norfolk & Western on December 1, 1959, N&W took this area out of service and sold a section of the Virginian right of way to the Virginia Highway Department for a new eastbound lane for route 460.

On January 23, 2009, about a dozen hearty Virginian fans and historians gathered at Princeton and Glen Lyn to observe the centennial of the completion of the railroad. And on that date in 2009, the weather duplicated the conditions of 1909!



Princeton, WV - Milepost 340.2

Sponsored by Princeton Railroad Museum
Delbert WHitlow Picture
Kurt Reisweber Collection

The Princeton, WV station, built in 1912, was one of only two, two-story stations constructed on the Virginian. The other was at Victoria, milepost 119.7, and both housed division offices upstairs. This vintage, hand colored post card shows the side often seen by the public as they approached the station to meet a passenger train. N&W demolished the original building in 1979.
The City of Princeton built a replica station in 2006, while developing the adjacent neighborhood into an historical center. The structure, although not painted in authentic Virginian colors, houses an excellent collection of Virginian artifacts with meeting rooms for social functions. The hours vary so calling is suggested. 304.487.5060. It is located on the site of the original station, 99 Mercer Street. The original freight house is next door.

 Matoaka, WV- Milepost 356.2



Elmore Yard - Milepost 374.7

Approaching Elmore from Princeton on route 10, be alert for several often photographed locations along the way. As crossing a large concrete bridge, be aware of the NS railroad facilities below. The old Virginian mainline from Princeton curves in from the east while the Guyandotte River branch passes under the bridge.  Virginian’s steam engine servicing facilities were in the area to the east of the north end of the bridge.  Turn right onto route 16  to reach Mullens.
Tom Marshall Picture
In the recent picture above, the NS locomotive is passing form the westbound mainline onto the Guyandotte River branch to the left. All three legs of a wye are visible in this picture with the westbound mainline being behind the brick railroad office structure. The track with standing camp cars is the leg connecting the eastbound mainline to the Guyandotte River branch. The two miles long Elmore Yard is in the narrow river valley in the top center